BlogWhat I'm curious about right now
My friend Randy Twaddle is an artist, an accomplished entrepreneur, and one of the most dapper and charming people you could ever hope to meet. (And trust me, you hope to meet him.) He lives in Houston, and he’s plugged into some pretty sophisticated communities, locally and far afield.
He also grew up in a small town – a very small town called Elmo, Missouri. And that small town upbringing has informed his approach to life and work in profound ways. So much so that he has built a consultancy around the values and vibe he associates with his small town roots.
He called that consultancy Small Town.
Talking to Randy about this got me thinking about my roots, and in particular the ones I don’t share with just anyone… the ones that go deep enough that they might not be obvious to people who don’t know me, but have shaped and fed my choices and values from my earliest days — and likely always will.
For instance: my mother grew up on a farm, in the wilds (she’d say “the bush”) of northern Ontario. Bedtime stories in my childhood often consisted of Laura Ingalls Wilder-style narratives of trying to eke out a modest life in an environment that was often hostile: sheets that froze to the walls of a poorly-insulated house in the winters, beds shared by several siblings, encounters with forest creatures, and profound gratitude and appreciation for the simple pleasures in life.
My dad was a United Church minister, a theological scholar who loved poetry, music, liturgy, and scripture in equal measure. From him, I learned to savour and treasure words, to hold language sacred, to excavate layers of meaning and history beneath these crude but beautiful tools we use to try and grasp a little of this life.
My parents were (and are) devoted to community, to collective action, to generosity and respect, and those values shaped me. In many ways, they’re the roots of what I do now.
A pause, here, to acknowledge that not all parents instill values we share, that lineage may be traced apart from blood and DNA, and that your roots may have required (re)planting in more fertile soil. I’ve chosen to focus here on my blood line, but you may find more nourishment in your milk line or your story line.
So here’s your curiosity experiment for this week:
- What are the roots that shape and nourish you?
- How do you connect to those roots in your daily life?
- Where might your roots want more fertile soil?
I’ve been working up to this post for a while. It’s part curiosity experiment, part manifesto, part kick-off for a big project I’ve had on the back burner for months, or maybe longer. I would love for you to read, respond, and if you feel so inclined, share it with your people. I’m cross-posting the introduction here, but you’ll need to click through to read the full piece on Medium.
I’ve been in business for myself a long time. But before I started my first business, I never imagined becoming an entrepreneur. It was a label that didn’t seem to fit me well. I associated “entrepreneur” with values I didn’t share, and behaviour I didn’t want to adopt.
Hustling for the sake of hustling, for example.
“Me first” self-promotion.
You know, the grossest, lowest common denominator, makes-your-skin-crawl kind of stuff.
It bothers me a lot that while there are lots (and lots and lots) of entrepreneurs doing things differently, the top ten lists for business books and podcasts are mostly unfettered, greed- and scarcity-driven bullshit all the way down.
Bothers is putting it mildly. It makes me rage. In a don’t-get-me-started-or-we’ll-be-here-all-day kind of way.
Because here’s the thing: business doesn’t have to be like that.
We don’t have to take those approaches to build successful businesses. You don’t have to prey on people’s insecurities to sell them things. You don’t have to pretend you know everything to be taken seriously. You don’t have to throw people under the bus to get ahead.
You don’t need to exploit or harm anyone (including yourself) to make your business thrive.
You know this, because the moment you think about the places and people you love to spend your money with — your favourite restaurants, service providers, grocers, artists, and so on — certain feelings come to mind: fair exchange, respect and care for customers and colleagues, devotion to quality, contribution to community. Those businesses (to borrow a favourite turn of phrase from Tim O’Reilly) contribute more value than they capture, in tangible and intangible ways.
However, there’s a whole industry, and broader cultural forces, working to make you believe that making your business successful is inevitably in tension with, you know, wacky shit like cooperation, respectful relationships, having healthy lives outside of work, shared status and power, and generally leaving the world a better place than you found it.
And so we continue to accept as a given that businesses should extract more value than they create, which quite literally impoverishes the world — while the rest of us entrepreneurs feel like weirdos for doing things differently.
But you’re not interested in building yet another extraction-oriented business, are you?
Nah. Because you know there’s another way. Or in fact, many other ways.
In December, I spent two nights in a wonderful little hotel that has a vinyl record library and a turntable in every room. I happened to be assigned a room just down the hall from the record library, so as soon as I’d set down my bag, I stepped back out to peruse the shelves. Ten minutes later, I was in my room with a stack of vinyl, listening to Lou Canon’s dreamy Suspicious and feeling something ineffable I hadn’t felt in a very long time.
Record players have been part of my life as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, my parents set up our basement rec room with an old turntable and amp, and a handful of LPs they were willing to sacrifice to the vagaries of young children’s inexpert handling. My siblings and I held daily dance parties and singalongs – countless hours spent listening and listening to the same songs over and over. To this day, I know every word, riff, and harmony on ABBA’s Super Trouper and Stevie Wonder’s Greatest Hits.
In my teens, my record collection kept me company through the heavy mood swings of adolescence. In my twenties and thirties, I lived with my DJ boyfriend, and our record collection occupied the second bedroom of our apartment. Of course, he had one hell of a collection – thousands of records, many of them rare treasures – and professional quality turntables. I ditched my thrifted turntable when we moved in together. But eventually, we split, and he (obviously and rightfully) got the turntables in the divorce.
And then I just never got around to buying a new one. I knew I would one day, though, so I kept a couple hundred vinyl records – just the ones I couldn’t bear to part with. I lugged those very, very heavy boxes of records up and down stairs and stairs and stairs, in and out of multiple homes, across a continent and a border, and now here we are, twelve years since the last time they were played.
As I sat in that cozy hotel room, listening to records, I remembered. I remembered my records, sitting quietly in a closet below board games and puzzles. And I remembered a part of me that had been boxed up and filed away for a long, long time.
I had lost track of it, forgot that it even mattered. This part of me that hums alive to the sound of needle on record, the feel of stylus in my hand, the mesmerizing, silent revolution of the turntable; that feels, viscerally, the warmth of the sound that emanates from vinyl; that finds comfort in the little pops and crackles of dust; that pulses along with the steady, empty rhythm of the record’s final groove.
You’d think it would be a small thing, perhaps nothing but a nostalgia trip. That’s what I thought. That’s why I let it go for twelve years. (Well, that and the fear of what small children would do to my precious records.) But as I stood transfixed in front of that record player, I knew it was not a small thing. I listened, and I remembered.
I re-membered myself. Some part of me came home.
Not every youthful pursuit brings us more closely in touch with ourselves later in life, of course. There are many things I once enjoyed that no longer evoke the same response. So there’s discernment required here, as always, to separate nostalgia for the past from reconnection to self. Audre Lorde’s essay, “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power,” holds a key to discerning the difference. Reminding us that eros encompasses creative expression, life drive, and sensuality, she writes:
Another important way in which the erotic connection functions is the open and fearless underlining of my capacity for joy. In the way my body stretches to music and opens into response, hearkening to its deepest rhythms, so every level upon which I sense also opens to the erotically satisfying experience, whether it is dancing, building a bookcase, writing a poem, examining an idea. That self-connection shared is a measure of the joy which I know myself to be capable of feeling, a reminder of my capacity for feeling. And that deep and irreplaceable knowledge of my capacity for joy comes to demand from all of my life that it be lived within the knowledge that such satisfaction is possible…– Audre Lorde, “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power,” from Sister Outsider
“A reminder of my capacity for feeling”: that’s what I experienced. And it’s what I wish for you, too.
Here’s this week’s curiosity experiment:
- What objects, activities, or pursuits were important to you when you were younger? What brought you pleasure, then? (Spend a few minutes with this. Jot down what comes to mind, in point form. Take your time sifting through memories.)
- How did those things make you feel?
- Of the feelings they evoked, are there sensations you miss? Feelings that seem difficult to access in your life as it is currently?
- Brainstorm ten creative ways you might reintroduce those feelings into your life (even if the objects, activities, or pursuits no longer fit).